I left the store with only three purchases: a literary fiction novel, a romance novel, and a compilation of strange ghost-hunting cases. I paid $6.70 (TOTAL!) plus tax. The very next day, I read a post by Vicky Rocho at Rambles & Randomness in which she discussed secondhand book sales and their impact on authors and publishers.
She got me thinking. Is it wrong to buy used books? Should I spend my money on full price new books, thus supporting the publishing industry I so badly want to be a part of? Just how much does the secondhand book business cut into profit margins for authors and publishers?
So I did a little investigating.
The newest of the books I bought that day was The Mistress, by Phillipe Tapon. On the back cover is the publisher's price of $12.95. A yellow price sticker next to it displayed the bookstore's selling price of $3.50.
The Mistress is not a recent book. Its copyright date is 1999. At BarnesandNoble.com, you can only purchase the digital, MP3 book for $14.95. The story was the same at Borders.com, with audio cassette and CD available starting at $39.95. At Amazon.com, there are 15 new, traditional book copies available, starting at $1.90 and 76 used copies, starting at $.01.
I don't know if Barnes and Noble or Borders would be able to order the paperback of The Mistress, but next time I'm in their stores I'll ask. In any case, I don't think my purchase of this book has hurt Mr. Tapon or Penguin Books. But what about if I'd bought a newer title, one still available on chain bookstore shelves?
I found an interesting New York Times article entitled, "Reading Between the Lines of Used Book Sales." It ran July 28, 2005, so may be somewhat dated now. However, author Hal R. Varian made the argument that, economically speaking, the secondhand book business did not significantly impact publishing industry sales. His article explored Amazon.com and its new and used book sales statistics, and often waded into economic waters I couldn't easily follow. In the end, though, he says, "...there are two distinct types of buyers: some purchase only new books, while others are quite happy to buy used books. As a result, the used market does not have a big impact in terms of lost sales in the new market." He goes on to say, "Moreover, the presence of lower-priced books on the Amazon Web site, Mr. Bezos [the chief executive of Amazon.com, at the time] has noted, may lead customers to 'visit our site more frequently, which in turn leads to higher sales of new books.'" (Read the whole article HERE.)
What do you think? In an age where the traditional paper book is facing the possibility of
extinction evolution, does buying used books feel wrong to you? Should we be supporting the publishing houses, or building our libraries before the good stuff goes away?